The Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett

lymond

(Apart from a spoiler for something that happens within the first couple of chapters in the first book, I’ve tried as much as I can to avoid spoilers in this review, because I really hope you’ll read these books).

Most of my February was swallowed up in reading this classic historical fiction series, which I had somehow managed to miss until now. Having heard several people rave about how great the Lymond Chronicles were, I decided to give them a try. I figured that with the sixth and last book having come out over 40 years ago and the author being safely dead, it would be a great series to read because it is definitively finished. I wanted to avoid the risk of a Game-of-Thrones-like scenario where I read faster than the author can write and end up impatiently waiting for the next book. Having read through these six chunky novels in less than a month, I now find myself very sorry Dorothy Dunnett is dead. While the series comes to an absolutely satisfying conclusion, if she were still alive there’d always be the hope that she might write a sequel, and the thought that there’ll never be another book about Francis Crawford of Lymond is a pretty hard thing to live with.

As I was warned, these books are absolutely fan-freakin’-tastic. They follow the adventures of a sixteenth-century Scottish nobleman, the above-mentioned Francis Crawford (usually just known as Lymond), younger son of a titled family, in the turbulent years when Mary, Queen of Scots was a child being raised in France while the crown of England was passing in rapid succession through each of Henry VIII’s children (the series ends with Elizabeth I’s accession to the English throne). Conflict between Scotland and her unfriendly neighbour to the south forms the setting of the first book, The Game of Kings, and remains a constant concern. But the scope of these books, which cover a period of a little over ten years, ranges far beyond the British Isles. Lymond is sometimes a mercenary, sometimes a spy, sometimes a courtier, and always in trouble. His travels take him to France, to Malta, to Turkey and to Russia as well as to England, with stops back home in Scotland throughout the series. Dunnett’s detailed historical research shines through as she brings to life scenes from a far wider variety of countries than readers usually get to visit in the standard Tudor/Elizabethan historical novels. Yes, interesting things were happening in places far from Britain, and if you travel with Lymond, you’ll be plunged right into the middle of them.

You’ll also travel in the company of one of the most fascinating, infuriating heroes in any book I’ve ever read. Lymond is both hero and anti-hero. He bursts into the first book as an outlaw determined to clear his name of the various crimes of which he’s accused, and starts his campaign in a not particularly promising way by attacking his family castle, shooting an innocent (female) bystander, and then setting fire to the castle while his mother (not to mention numerous other people) is inside. At this point readers can be forgiven for thinking, “Wait … is this the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for?”

Lymond does a lot of unpleasant things, and not just in the first few chapters — throughout the whole series. It’s safe to say that most of the awful things he does are eventually revealed to be: a) not as awful as they originally seemed, b) totally justified, or c) actually a complete misdirection. But there is a d) category of things he does that are still kind of unforgiveable, just because he’s a complicated guy living in complicated times.

And wow, is he ever complicated. Still a very young man when the series begins, Francis Crawford of Lymond is good at everything — he’s a brilliant soldier and military strategist, a formidable athlete, a gifted musician, a widely-read and erudite man who speaks seven or eight languages and can quote poetry and toss off sarcastic comments in all of them. He’s smart, he’s accomplished, he’s funny — but of course he’s also tortured by inner demons, and the shadows that haunt him only get darker as the series goes on. Dorothy Dunnett long predates George R.R. Martin in her willingness not only to kill off key characters, but to allow the characters who survive to suffer unspeakable torments. And nobody suffers more than Lymond.

There’s no doubt that this series could be annoying, with a hero like Lymond. He’s a bundle of literary tropes — the brilliant, gifted man who’s effortlessly good at everything, yet is a sensitive and tormented soul inside. And as for the cliche that all he needs is the love of a good woman — well, that’s rarely been explored more thoroughly than it is in this series. What makes Lymond himself so much more than a bag of stereotypes is just that Dunnett writes so well. Instead of making her hero/antihero seem like a worn-out cliche, she makes him seem like the original that all the other cliches (even those written earlier!) were based on. It’s easy to spot tropes in the Lymond books, yet somehow, they come across as complete originals, as does the main character himself.

That’s not to say the books are perfect, or that every reader will love them. I found The Game of Kings very hard to get into for the first couple of hundred pages: Dunnett’s writing is dense, layered, thick with allusions (and no pandering to the reader with explanations, translations or footnotes!). Things often happen that aren’t at all clear to the reader at the time, but will be explained later, if you can just hang on for three hundred pages. By the end of the first book I was well and truly hooked, but it wasn’t till partway through the second book, Queen’s Play (Lymond in France! And in disguise! And in mortal peril!) that I began to fully trust Dunnett and believe that everything I was confused about would eventually be explained to me. These books reward patience and careful reading; they are a swashbuckling adventure series for bookworms and people who get drunk on words. While there were passages in each book that moved slowly, weighted down by pages of loving description, there were also places in every book (usually near the end) when I could not go to sleep until I’d stayed awake, heart pounding, to turn the last page and see how things worked out.

Lymond is a great character, and he’s supported by a cast of equally great, vividly delineated characters — some real people from history, and lots of people as fictional as Lymond himself who move through the real historical events. There’s one major plot thread that runs through the books that I didn’t care for, and while the three characters associated with that storyline (Jerrott, Marthe and the Dame de Doubtance) are fan favourites, I wouldn’t have minded if they were all neatly excised from the story (well, except for one rather crucial scene in which one of them is absolutely necessary to the plot). But there’s such a rich tapestry of people and places in these six books that everyone will have favourites. For me, Lymond’s brother and his mother and especially  the woman who becomes his love interest (I won’t spoil you even so far as to breathe her name) are just as compelling as the hero himself, and I missed them all like old friends when I finally finished the last page of Checkmate, the final book.

It’s also a huge testimony to Dunnett’s skill as a writer that I never, right up to the final pages of the last book, felt that a happy or even a peaceful ending was assured. This is no cliche romance where you know from the moment the hero and heroine first exchange smoldering glances, that they’ll eventually end up together. This is a story told by a writer who, as I said, is willing to put her characters through tests so severe, and hurt them so thoroughly, that you genuinely wonder if these conflicts will ever be worked out. Right up to the last pages of the last book my heart was in my throat, wondering if Lymond would even make it to the end safely — and that’s a tremendous tribute to a writer, if she can make you not only care about the characters like they were real people, but also allow them to be at much at risk as real people are (especially real people living in the violent, blood-drenched world these characters inhabit). No-one is safe, no matter how important to the story they are, or how close to the last page you might be.

What first convinced me to read the Lymond books (other than just hearing that they were a really well-written series of historical novels) was the testimony of a few readers I met online who compared them to Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, which, as you know, are among my favourite books in the world. Sayers’ books were written forty years earlier but set centuries later, and the mileu of 1920s and ‘3os England is obviously very different from that of Renaissance Europe. But the parallels between Lymond and Lord Peter are striking enough to make me wonder if Dunnett had read Sayers and consciously or unconsciously tried to create the same kind of character in a different time and place. Lymond shares Lord Peter’s linguistic skill, athletic ability, musical talent and love for allusions and quotations, as well as both men being the golden-haired younger sons of noblemen (with stolid, serious older brothers who hold the title and disapprove of their younger brothers’ escapades). Both, despite their skills, are considered not quite respectable; both men have deep insecurities and fears that they keep hidden most of the time; both have adoring mothers who hide steel-trap minds behind a stream of daffy-sounding conversation. Even the scene where Lymond finally (finally!) falls in love will strike some echoes with readers of Sayers’ Gaudy Night. And both series prove that you can take every literary cliche –including that of the brilliant, gifted, tormented man who really just needs to be loved — and, if you’re a good enough writer, lift it above the level of cliche into a shining creation that feels absolutely unique.

If you’re convinced by this review to pick up The Game of Kings and give it a try, be patient with the book. Dunnett’s writing takes a while to reel you in, but if she does hook you, you’ll be hooked hard and probably find yourself coming back, as I plan to do, for many re-reads. This is simply a fabulous series.

 

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90 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- historical

90 responses to “The Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett

  1. Helen

    I hope you re-read. The amount of information I missed the first time through was shocking. It made the first re-read almost like reading a fresh series.

    • I have read the Lymond series 9 times now and STILL find myself saying OH,THAT’S WHAT THEY MEANT!! Or similar. Halfway thru Niccolo for 2nd time now, but find myself wanting to reach for Francis!

  2. What Helen said. I’ve reread these books many times, and every time I find new meaning and enjoy them more.

  3. Oh, I definitely will be re-reading. Now that I’ve finished the books and I’m reading other people’s reviews and commentary, I find myself looking at things people have written about the books and thinking, “Wait, did that happen? How did I miss that?” I think one of the things is that Dunnett’s style of writing is often so full of allusions and so indirect that she can write about a thing happening without ever coming out and saying it happened, so a first-time reader can miss it. I read them as e-books (which is how I read most novels) but am planning to order hard copies for a reread, since paper books make it easier to flip back and forth a few pages and go “Ohhhh … so that was what was happening when … ohhhh right!!!”

    • Helen

      Get some of those small sticky notes. I have them stuck on pages, sometimes with a note, so I can find stuff when I flip back.

      Teaser: pay attention to sapphires.

    • Good luck,, Trudyj65! I went to Barnes and Noble for the last Niccolo book(misplaced it somewhere) and they did not have a SINGLE Dunnett book in that whole huge store! Had to order the dang thing, which I did. But Outlander, by Gabaldon, which I also love, was all over the place. Due, no doubt to the Starz TV series of same name. Wish Lymond could be put on the screen, but I feel that it would be absolutely impossible to do it justice. Incidentally, I enjoy the Phillipa Gregory books very much, as they have to do with historical monarchs, but she in no way comes near r Gabaldon and NO WAY near Dunnett! Just ordered Gregory’s latest book.
      Ruth

  4. Don’t forget, you’ve got the ‘prequel’ series still to read as well. Then there’s the standalone Macbeth novel, King Hereafter and even the contemporary JJ mystery series. And you can re-read and still find more to pick up on, make different connections now you know what happens on the surface.

  5. Ellen Penick

    And now you can go on to read her second series, The House of Niccolo! Dorothy Dunnett was undoubtedly the best writer of historical fiction I have been lucky enough to read. The last page of the last book had me so highly strung that on reading the last words I put down the book and burst into tears. I cared about Lymond that much! And I’m not known for being a softy. I was unlucky enough to read these as they were being published. When a new volume was released I would lock myself in my room until I had read it. My children were not always appreciative.

  6. Welcome to the world of the Dunnett-addicted. Will you be checking out the Niccolo books next?

  7. Ann Kuhns

    God I loved these books so much! But I am amazed that you could read all six in one month. I discovered these books by accident on Goodreads 18 months ago and it took me a good four months to get through them, and I was ignoring most of the rest of my life (wife, mother, employee). I found the writing so rich and allusive that I could not push through very fast and still get all the details. I would definitely recommend a re-read and I also thoroughly endorse House of Niccolo. At first I didn’t like the books as much because, let’s face it, who can match Lymond? But if you stick with it (they key with DD), you may ultimately decide, as I did, that Nicholas is an even more impressive character. And DD becomes a better writer over time, which shows in this series. Thanks for a great review! It’s always so wonderful to find another fan. The characters in these books have continued to roll around in my head for months, and will probably continue to invade my thoughts for years to come.

  8. Geri tauber

    I tell my recruits who are having difficulty with GoK to soldier on until Don Luis appears. That usually does the trick. DD has been my favorite author since I first discovered her in 1975 and I consider myself blessed that I got to meet her at a book signing shortly before she died.

  9. Reblogged this on Journey Taker and commented:
    Yes, yes, yes. Francis Crawford, you beautiful bastard, you!

  10. I hope you don’t mind the reblog – The Lymond Chronicles have inspired me to write my historical series, currently in progress.

  11. Prepare to envy – I started the Lymond series in Edinburgh in early 70s – worked with Sir Alastair and met Lady Dorothy several times informally – both of them were funny warm and utterly natural. I loved the Sayers books when I was 13 and had never seen a parallel before but…..can agree. Simply the best Scottish author for this period – I have read them more times than I could guess and the follow on – prequel – was excellent too. King hereafter is also richly written.

  12. Charlotte Latvala

    Welcome to the DD fold! I find it difficult to talk about these books without turning into a blathering idiot; they are so dense and delightful, and Lymond is such a multi-layered character, that I become incoherent. (To say nothing of the complete cast of sharply-drawn primary and secondary characters who inhabit these books.) But yes, do read them again (and again, and again.) You’ll find even more to love. Happy re-reading!

  13. LauraD

    For another perspective, try listening to them on audio. I heard things that I missed through the mechanics of reading.

  14. Catherine

    Such a well-written review, thank you! I was fortunate enough to locate and read the Chronicles in backward order, grabbing Checkmate at the grocery store checkout during my pregnancy in 1977, when I was reading 20+ books a month. I was living in Germany at the time, so tracking down the other books in the series was challenging. I say it was lucky that I read them in backward order, because I’m not sure I would have plowed through GoK otherwise. These were the first novels I’ve ever run across that forced me to read every, single word or become even more befuddled than was designed. What a gifted writer was our Ms. Dunnett. Now I need to go look for the Sayer books, praying they deliver a world as magical as the one I visit every time I journey with Lymond.

  15. So I’m assuming you’ve found the House of Niccolo Series. You may think you’re done with Lymond . . .

  16. Caroline Mcilwaine

    What a wonderful review. (Maybe it just needed a sample paragraph of DD’s gorgeous writing for the initiated.) I have been rereading these novels for 30 years and have never read anything to compare. The first novel in the series is tough going and I did have one friend return my copy of Game of Kings saying she couldn’t find the story. Simply the best story I have ever read, with amazing characters, lots of intellectual puzzling, key aspects of the narrative tied in with real historical events or people (and impeccable research applied here, no token dropping in of a fact here or there), prose unlike any other author’s I have read, great wit and humour too which ameliorates all the bludgeoning to the emotions, and most of all – a story that never tires in the rereading.
    There are certainly brutal moments reflective of the 1500s but nothing like the gratuitousness of Game of Thrones (I am going by reviews and commentaries here as I haven’t read that series.)
    Well done on writing such a great review without any spoilers. Happy re-reads. (How did you read all six books in four weeks! I guess the cliff edges DD leaves us on at the end of three of the six books help fuel the race to the end …)
    I suspect you might be afflicted with the ‘life long fever’ now

  17. Helen

    If you’ve got the budget, I recommend the companion books. There are two for the Lymond Chronicles as a series and a third just for GofK. They help alot with the quotations that every character spouts at the drop of a hat.

    • From the comments I’ve read, I started with F.C.of L. earlier than anyone so far. I picked up Disorderly Knights in the summer of 1966. Can you imagine? I had no idea who was good or who was bad. Then I found Queen’s Play, then GoK. By that time PiF was about to come out and I read the rest in order. I cried more than once, laughed hysterically at Kate, and fell soundly in love with Lymond. I urge you to read the Lymond Chronicles again before reading Niccolo. You’re going to find so many things you missed on a re-read that you’ll be glad you are more familiar with the story. I read King Hereafter when it came out, didn’t much like it, but decided to read it again in December. I’ve read it three times now and have lost count of the re-reads of the others. I know the next word after I turn the page on all fourteen of the others. When I read DD had died, I started crying and said,”No more stories.”

      • Carol Arthur Jones

        I find I read every word of all six Lymond books in about 8 days. Every year I always find something new that I did not fully grasp in the first reading…Excellent review. thank you.

    • Don Luis was hysterical, and SO clever! I did not need to get that far before falling in love, however. All it took was ‘Lymond’s back’ on the first page, and I wanted more.I started reading her after the FIRST book and oh those long waits. NOBODY comes up to her level in IMHO, but I can’t put her books down long enough to discover anyone else! And you are such a lucky dog to have gotten to meet her.
      Ruth

  18. Thanks for all the comments everyone … easily the most comments I have gotten on one book review in a single day, so I have obviously fallen into a thicket of Lymond fans! I have been looking for good places to go online to discuss the books and most of the discussions seem to have been dormant for the last few years, so I’m always interested in knowing that other people are reading the same books!

    I definitely plan to read the Niccolo books but it won’t be right away. I think if I read them right now, I’d be comparing them to the Lymond books, and I’ve been told they’re different in many ways, so I want to give myself some space. And it’s always great to have more good books to look forward to.

  19. To be honest, when I started them, I knew nothing about the story, so I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to love or hate Lymond, and was deeply lost through most of the first half of GoK. But I remember the very moment I knew in my heart and soul that not only did I love that book, but also Francis Crawford of Lymond. It was the heartbreaking instant that Turkey Mat fell from his horse, stuck with arrows, and Lymond’s – for once in his life – totally sincere emotional reaction to Turkey’s ill-fated attempt at an escape.

    Up to that moment, I thought I wanted Scott to bring him to justice for his crimes. I thought, even though I would be sad to see it, I thought I wanted him to face trial. Up to that moment, through all the previous pages, I’d thought he was the ultimate Rupert of Hentzau – dashing, adorable, roguish, but destined to face justice for his wrongs.

    But the moment he yells at Turkey to not be an idiot, with all the real emotion he’s feeling, I knew I wanted him to survive and win. I knew I’d loved him all along – and the book with him. 😀

    And so then of course, his subsequent ordeal at the castle followed by his little chat with Scott in the cellar and then his punishing trek to meet Summerville only solidified my change of allegiance forever.

    • I have the companion books and never do a re-read without them at my elbow. I still miss a lot, but I will pick them all up someday, if I live that long. I am 80 now,, and have been in love with Francis Crawford for over 46 yrs.! I hope Dorothy is allowed pen and paper where she is and has something new for me when and if I get where she is!
      Ruth Conley

    • Guess I am easy prey, but the drunken pig in the cellar had me laugh
      ing tears. My family thought I was nuts. And still stare at me every time I reach for a re-read. I have never been able to get ANY of them to read one word. But they read nothing unless it is on their ‘text’ screen!

    • Auga

      I wish you hadn’t posted the spoilers in this comment. The OP went to great lengths to making sure the review was spoiler free, and you go and spoil it…

  20. maamej

    I had difficulty getting into her books when I first came across them in the 70s, but I was a lot younger then – your enthusiasm makes me think I should give them another go.

  21. Delaine

    Francis and Nicholas became friends to my daughters as I recounted their tales over dinner, in the car, while waiting in lines,…as I read and then re-read the novels several times. I truly believe my girls felt as bereft as I did when the end would come and we would part with the characters again.
    I hope you enjoy her series and King Hereafter as much as I have over the years. Hmmmm…in fact, maybe it’s time for a re-read!

  22. You’ve inspired me! Over the years I’ve heard many people rave about Dorothy Dunnett, but I’ve never got around to reading her. I’ll be off to the library tomorrow.

  23. I re-read the series a couple of times but it wasn’t until I listened to the audio version of Game of Kings that a really bright light came on for me. One that changed my perception of the entire series. Apparently I listen a lot more carefully than I read.

  24. Reblogged this on Tasmanian Bibliophile @Large and commented:
    I totally agree with Compulsive Overreader. Dorothy Dunnett’s novels are worth reading, and re-reading.

  25. Good review! I’ve been in love with Lymond for years, and I was only thinking the other day that it was about time for a re-read – and you have definitely tipped the scales. I fell almost as heavily for Niccolo (my husband still doesn’t know why Bruges suddenly hit the top of our European city break list), but though those books are also wonderful, for me they don’t have quite the satisfaction of the Lymond Chronicles; the final book in the Niccolo series had the feel for me of being rather rushed, and of tying up the loose ends in a way that wasn’t wholly satisfactory or successful. The last few chapters of Checkmate, on the other hand, had me reading absolutely feverishly, heart pounding and butterflies in stomach – and like one of the earlier commenters, when I reached the end of the last page I burst into tears. I felt utterly bereft that my time with those characters was ended – how lucky for me that I can go and spend time with them again now!

  26. I inherited my passion for the writing of Dorothy Dunnet from my mother … and own everything she’s written – including the Johnson Johnson series which meets my love of crime genre.

    I re-read Lymond every 4 years as I feel that am visiting with old friends. I re-read Nicolo every 4 years too. The challenge these days is in finding quality books as it is quite some time since they were last re-printed. It makes for joyful moments when I come across some in reloved bookshops. My original set (as handed down to me by my Mum) are falling to pieces.

    I fell in love within the first few chapters of Game of Kings … but then I have a twisty turny mind of my own. I like books that leave you guessing right from the beginning … predictability is dull. And neither Nicolo or Lymond are predictable. I also love that the female characters are strong and varied … nothing namby pamby about them.

    This summer is about Nicolo as Lymond & I journeyed through Africa together 2 years ago!! Enjoy your on-going journey with Dorothy Dunnet.

  27. I have loved and reread these books many times since I first picked up Game of Kings in 1987. At the time, I’d just finished a read of the Wimsey books, as they were screening that really nice adaptation with Petherbridge and Harriet Walters, and I had exactly the same reaction – Lymond=Wimsey. And I’d also venture Albert Campion into the mix, although I think Wimsey is the main contender for key influence on the shaping of many of Lymond’s characteristics.
    Thank you for making me think that this summer is time for a reread:-).

    • Ruth Conley

      Zeba, just ordered the Wimsey books on your recommendation! They better be good! I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!!!! Just kidding. It was a bargain and NO SHIPPING! But supposedly, all books in one cover. Is that possible?

      • For the Sayers novels I love the ones with Harriet Vane. Start with Gaudy Night.

        Nancy

      • I started with Gaudy Night, but I wish I’d started with Strong Poison and read them in order (SP, Have His Carcase, GN and then Busman’s Honeymoon) to get the Harriet/Peter relationship more in context and see it develop as Sayers wrote it.

      • Ruth Conley

        I am beginning to suspect my ‘book’ with all her novels in it is a fantasy. We shall see tomorrow! Thanks for tips. I need to get that list of her works in order. Would that work?

      • Ruth Conley

        Nancy, you gave the list of the order in which you wish you had read the Sayer’s books. I now have the Peter Wimsey book. As I am a first timer with her, would you recommend the Wimsey Book or SP AS my first chooice?
        Thank you for info-Ruth

      • Hm. Maybe you should postpone Gaudy Night till you get a handle on Peter. He’s in all of them. So start with Strong Poison.

      • Ruth Conley

        OK-I will do them in the order you listed.Poison, Carcase,GN and Busman’s Honeymoon. Right?

      • That’s a good order. I mean, if you want the WHOLE backstory of Lord Peter, you have to start way back with Whose Body and read through several more, but I find if someone’s new to the series and likes a good romance, those four with both Peter and Harriet in them are a good way to get into the series. You can always go back and read the others (before Peter meets Harriet) later.

      • Ruth Conley

        I think I prefer to start at the beginning. (OCD). I will get ‘Whose Body’ and go from there. If she is a WRITER, I am sure I will be hooked. And you DID compare that hero with Francis, did you not? Or was that someone else? I get lost.

      • In the original post (my review of the series here) I said that I see a lot of parallels between Lord Peter and Lymond, but lots of other people have made that comparison too. If you can imagine a character very like Lymond born in late 19th century England instead of 16th c Scotland, imagine that instead of Solway Moss and the French galleys he has to face the trenches of WWI and shell-shock afterwards … and then picture him solving crimes in 1920s and 30s London, then you can sort of imagine what Lord Peter is like.

      • I think the early books are a bit frivolous compared to the middle books. Gaudy Night and the Nine Tailors are just excellent. And I found a quote in one of the books that Dunnett repeats word for word in the LC.

      • Ruth Conley

        Oh that is fabulous, Nancy!! I thought in reading Outlander I saw so many Francis parallels in Jamie I even asked her -Gabaldon- about that. She was a little evasive, and I don’t blame her, so I dropped the line. But since I know she met her and admired her as she did, I have no doubt the incidents were borrowed. Now I shall have to search for the line in Sayer’s book that is in LC, and I think I will recognize it immediately. I am glad each of them had some guidance on their fabulous way! Now I have to order. Nine Tailors!!! Thank you for adding to my DD trivia!!! Ruth

      • Ruth Conley

        Sounds great! Love heroes. Thx again. I do not know when I shall start those books. I want a list of her works first.

      • Ruth Conley

        Nancy, thank you for the info. I am supposed to get the one book tomorrow that has ALL her novels in it. Possible? I will keep your post until I see if Gaudy nights is in there. Otherwise, back to Amazon. Library is 25 mi. away!

  28. Michele Duval Lane

    I am on my 3rd reading of The Niccolo Series and it really is like reading totally new books every time. DD is THE most beautiful and interesting and literate writer I have ever come across.

  29. I just ordered (used) hard copies of the first four books last night (couldn’t find the last two at a reasonable price, but I’m sure I will eventually). As I said above I do most of my fiction reading as e-books, but I think these will really reward a paper re-reading due to the need to mark things and flip back and forth to compare scenes. Lots of people have recommended the audiobooks to me, but audiobooks are a format I just can’t get on with personally (my mind wanders while listening and I zone back in to find out I’ve missed a few pages of key plot points…)

    • Ruth Conley

      Trudy, what is the difference between e-books and audio books? What equipment would I need for each?

      • Audiobooks are books read aloud to listen to. They can be listened to on CD or on a computer or smartphone, depending what format the book is available in.

        E-books are text, to be read on a computer, tablet or phone screen. The best technology for an e-book is an e-reader such as a Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, or a tablet like an iPad that’s similar in size to a book (thus easy to hold while reading).

      • Ruth Conley

        So with the audio books, do I actually possess that CD or would the sound be coming from my computer of something? I could just put it in my CD player and play it while I worked around the house, like I do my music? I would like that better than something I would have to hold and read. Why not just hold a book. Thank you again for your very prompt and thorough info.

      • I have them in tape form but obviously now they would come as CDs you could play on anything including in your car.

      • Ruth Conley

        THAT would be great. I did not like the idea of ear phones and something I had to carry around. And if hubby is not around, I can turn Lymond all the way up!!!!!!! So looks like audio books for me!

  30. Thank you so much for setting out so clearly why I still read these novels forty years on, and why, as an author as well as a reader, I am so demanding. Lymond, like Niccoló, is a complex character, and I make no attempt to hide the fact that my own writing is heavily influenced by the way Dunnett created these two men.

  31. You really must move on to the House of Niccolo series, also by Dorothy Dunnett and, my favorite, the stand-alone book “King Hereafter” – a reworking of the historical facts and huge gaps surrounding MacBeth

  32. Delighted to hear you finished the series and enjoyed them so much. As I hinted at during our brief Twitter chat mid-series there were a lot of ups and down to come – particularly for Francis, and Philippa who you were so concerned about. Glad you avoided any spoilers.
    But horrified (grin) that you didn’t like Marthe and Jerott, as they have been a special study of mine. Visit my old Dunnett website and blog if you want to read my take on the two of them –
    http://www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/blog/book-discussion/marthe-tragic-pawn-or-a-lost-soul-redeemed.php and
    http://www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/blog/book-discussion/jerott-blyth.php
    And enjoy Nicholas – very different character but the writing and world-building is sublime. Just don’t expect to find Lymond again.

    • Thanks Bill — I’ve read your article about Marthe and it made me hate her quite a bit less — I agree with you on the importance of that key word, which I would never have noticed otherwise! I did a good job of avoiding spoilers but it was difficult, as the books have been around so long and have so many dedicated readers that the internet is crawling with spoilers! Hope I haven’t added to them too much by posting this.

  33. Nancy J. Silberstein

    In September of 2000, Dorothy Dunnett swore to me that there would be no more fiction, and I reluctantly believed her. Her husband had died recently died – she told my husband and me a funny story about scattering his ashes – and I believe he was an important part of her writing experience. So no prequel, no follow up. njs

    P.S. Dunnett had read Wimsey.

    • Yes, I assumed she must have — there are too many parallels for them to be accidental.

      And I’m not really sorry she didn’t write more Lymond books. I’d love to have had a book that, like Sayers’ “Busman’s Honeymoon” and the “Tallboys” short story, gave us a glimpse into what the couple’s married life and life as parents might have been like — but being able to imagine it is probably better. It’s a near-perfect series as it is.

      • Ruth Conley

        Trudy, for me, LC WAS perfect! I surely enjoyed your summary. Made me itch to reach for GoK! But too many friends are suggesting a parallel series that I am intrigued, and may do that one. Though I long for Francis! I am interested to see if my take will be the same as theirs.

  34. chrisquintonwriter

    I love these books! It’s thanks to Disorderly Knights that I discovered Malta, and all the amazing history [and prehistory there – I’m an archaeology nut]. To wander around Senglea, having recently reread the book for the umpteenth time, was a wonderful experience.

  35. Dorothy Dunnett also wrote the niccolo rising series which was set a generation or so prior the the lymond series. Lymonds mother was a descendant of the characters in that series
    c

  36. Yep, another DD fanatic here 🙂 First read them in the late 70’s then every couple of years or so. Eventually had to buy new copies as the originals are now held together with rubber bands and sticky notes. When I was going through a DD faze my poor little children would live on toasted sandwiches and cereal. Totally recommend HoN series but agree with a previous poster, do *not* expect to find Lymond again. Niccolo is very much his own character. Started reading these just after the first one was published so had a torturous 18 odd months wait for the next one to come out, then I would read it in a night and have to wait another 18 odd months etc etc. It was a looong decade, that one 🙂 Also, love, love, love her King Hereafter. Such a beautiful version of MacBeth’s story. IMHO, no other author matches her standard/style of writing so beautifully described in your review -Dunnett’s writing is dense, layered, thick with allusions (and no pandering to the reader with explanations, translations or footnotes!).
    I have come across a couple that are close and funnily enough they are young adult fiction. You would probably like a 4 book series by Megan Whalen Turner that starts with ‘The Queen’s Thief’. The hero is young and very, very Lymondesque. Also try a 3 book series by author Melina Marchetta that starts with ‘Finnikin of the Rock’. A truly beautiful book in which nothing is as it seems. Can honestly say I love this book almost a much as I love DD’s books.

    • Ruth Conley

      Alison, I purchased Turner’s series and read ‘The Thief’ and could go no further. Plot too simple, no twists and turns, and the whole book is about only one adventure. Couple surprises at the end, but with LC books STARTING with surprises, twists and turns and a brilliant hero to follow from here to hereafter, one was enough. One day I may try the next one, but there are too many others out there! Think I will try those Sayer’s books, if I can turn myself away from Francis long enough! I will try your Marchetta books, though. Anything a DD fan recommends, I will try!

      • Teddy

        You’re right; no one compares to the redoubtable DD. Another Scott — David Neilson — writes a strong female protagonist solving mysteries through sweeping epics set in 1700s Vienna. His writing is good. Two books of his series are on Amazon — The Prussian Dispatch is the first. I’d be interested in your take on them.

      • Ruth Conley

        Teddy, have never heard of him, but will give it a try! Thanks for reply and suggestion. Will prob. not be able to find you to let you know how it was, though!

      • Teddy

        Sorry…Scot

      • Ruth Conley

        Teddy, Just ordered your suggestion from Amazon. Be here 28th. No shipping charges! Sure liked that cover on the book!

  37. I read these books the summer after my eldest son died. I was wandering thru the library looking for some series that was long enough to get lost in, and saw Dorothy Dunnett who Ibhad never heard of. What. A. Journey. It helped me escape overwhelming grief for a time.
    I have reread many times, love the whole series!

  38. Alice D

    What a grand review! I think it’s time for a rereading of the Lymond Chronicles. Like many others, I was absolutely bereft when I’d finished that last page of Checkmate many years ago, weeping openly as if it were the end of my own love affair.

    I’m astonished you read all the books in one month. Bloody hell, woman, when did you find time to eat or sleep? It took me 3-4 months and I lost many a night’s sleep along the way.

    As fictional men go, Francis, that magnificent bastard, is top of the heap for me. No others will do. I have the Niccolo books on a shelf, as well as King Hereafter, still unread — motherhood and work have kept me from starting those, but I am hoarding them to be savored.

  39. I am still angry at my friends who read the Lymond Chronicles 20 to 30 years before I did and didn’t bother to tell me that it was often, especially in the early volumes, screamingly funny. Funny unlike anything else I had ever read – while most people I’ve discussed it with describe Lymond imitating a Spanish hidalgo as their favorite, I succumbed utterly to Christian Stewart’s remarks to Sym ending with ‘”In which event he will certainly become nobody in record time” (pg 60). I think I just laughed uncontrollably for minutes in total awe of the recognition that such humor could exist.

    • They’re very funny. Even in the later books, when there’s so much gloom and darkness, there’s also so much wit. Most of my favourite funny bits are between Lymond and Philippa, with possibly my very favourite being this exchange:

      “Your hostess, Madame de St. Andre called on me this morning. She thinks, as a maiden lady, I should wear my hair down….”

      Lymond said repressively, “As a maiden lady, you would wear anyone down, including Mme. de St. Andre.”

  40. Caroline McKay

    I agree – a really fantastic review, much of which echoes my own experience with the books. I would have abandoned GoK half way through as I did not have a clue what was going on most of the time but thankfully one of my friends had lent me the whole series and urged me to keep going. It wasn’t until DK that I became inextricably hooked on the books and would find myself musing about what might happen whilst in the bus queue or at the supermarket. You might like the Facebook group Reading Dunnett. I have loved reading everyone’s comments above in response to your review. Thanks again.

  41. Scott Richardson

    When I first decided to teach The Game of Kings in a college literature course, I found that no book of literary criticism on Dunnett had ever been published. So I wrote my own. It will come out at the end of June from the Univ. of Missouri Press: Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles: The Enigma of Francis Crawford. I hope very good readers like you will find it of interest.

    • Scott, what would be the best way for me to obtain a copy of your book. I am 80 and don’t get around very far, but have been in love with that man for about 46 yrs. You think maybe Amazon? I am also not an expert in computer literacy, so make it easy! Love to you and to anyone who loves DD and Francis. I suspect the world is full of us!
      Ruth Conley

      • Ruth Conley

        Never got an answer from you but got the book and have read it thru and thru. Very thorough. You did your homework. Thank you for even attempting it!

  42. This is my third read since the ’90s when it took forever to get through the series.I read Queen’s Play first, and since I’m a fast reader and can finish a 400+ book in a night, I was delighted to scrounge around used book stores until I had gathered the entire series to delightfully slog through; however, I had forgotten so much of Checkmate that it shocked me, and I knew Disorderly Knights was a sad one, but I continued through; still, does or can anyone tell me what really happened to Eloise? I’ve searched and still couldn’t find out.

  43. Pingback: my love affair with the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett – and the rain left off

  44. Ruth Conley

    I find myself THRILLED with the knowledge that, contrary to my many years ‘alone’ with Lymond, there are out there in the world, thousands of readers just like me, who have been searching for others to share their treasure with. So many have never HEARD of Lymond, and others refuse to become interested, and I grieve for them and write them off as non-readers!!!! I am 80 yrs. old and have read that series 8 or 9 times now. (Niccolo only twice–he just does not do for me what Lymond does. I LOVE Lymond,and have for over 40 yrs. but he is a prickly love you might not want to TELL that you love him. I am surprised Phillipa ever got up the nerve, but then, Phillipa is Phillipa!) Even now I am searching the internet over for series that in any way could come close to DD’s works. I am now told that Dorothy Sayers is the lady to go to, and I have ordered her books. Or rather, her book, as I am told the one volume contains all her works. I am doubtful of that, but as finances verse gullibility, I chose the latter. I will be angry with Amazon if it is not as advertised!!! To all you MILLIONS of DD lovers, know that I am only one among you, but in the forefront of the ranks. She will ALWAYS be my favorite, as will Lymond. I want to have her books buried with me, but, unfortunately, that would be a waste. (Cremation leaves nothing!) I have 2 copies of the series now, one as a ‘spare’ for when the first falls apart, and I wish to will them to someone who would appreciate them, but if that were to be true, they prob. have already read them!!! I vastly appreciate those of you who devote time and effort not only to keep her memory alive, but to go to the trouble to delve into some of the million facets of her writing, from every angle. I can never get enough about DD, and knowing you are all out there makes us an Army! LOL-Lots of Love to all DD lovers!

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